Today, LH students will begin taking end-of-semester exams after the long holiday break. For serious students who work hard for every percentage point in their GPA, moving exams to after Christmas is a serious blow. They are no longer interested in joining the church ski trip, the youth mission trip, or even the family vacation to Grandma’s if it takes them away for preparing for exams. These days, being accepted into the college of your choice or receiving a scholarship is so competitive that students feel they can’t risk letting someone else take their spot while they enjoy a week away.

How did we get here? It all started when districts like Plano and others began backing their start dates toward August 1 (cynics say they chose earlier dates to permit earlier football practices). Federal No Child Left Behind laws kept adding to the required number of instruction days. When the travel and leisure lobby recognized how many weeks of vacation revenue they were losing, they squawked. They prodded the mommy contingent to complain – "don’t let them take away your child’s summer." Summer camps were forced to eliminate sessions, which reduced employment opportunities for college kid counselors. State legislators, affected by the lobbyists and by the mommy letter-writing campaign, mandated a later start date – school may not begin earlier than the week before Labor Day.

While mommies and summer camps everywhere celebrated, local districts fretted. How do we divide up the semesters if Christmas is no longer the halfway point? RISD officials studied the calendar closely and say they could find no way to hold exams before the holiday, but Highland Park and others managed to do it. The proposed RISD calendar for next year is out, and it’s the same as this year’s.

Practically, the students and parents I’ve spoken to in LH say it’s been a disaster. Students returning with foggy brains would do better beginning subjects anew than moving into testing mode on information from the fall. Activity schedules have not been adjusted – soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, and basketball all had competitions during exam reviews. Assignments due at the end of the semester caused many students to work over the break. Two LH churches which sponsored youth ski trips were snowbound in Colorado and delivered their students home a day after school began. Despite the value of spiritual rejuvenation, physical exercise, and just plain fun, many attendees won’t sign up next year at the risk of missing an exam review day and valuable test prep time. Won’t it be sad if our hard-working students have to give up their winter break to sit in their room and study?